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Today's classrooms are becoming places where meaningful learning is unwelcome.

Teach your teachers well | Nov. 22, commentary by Susan Engel

Meaningful learning is made unwelcome

I agree with Susan Engel and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's conclusions that public education is in need of improvement. However, I also believe that these improvements are already present, they're just in a latent mode, waiting beneath the surface.

My experience with teaching preparation (both undergraduate and graduate degrees) was wonderful, and I think pretty general to the experiences of most teachers. We were taught sound pedagogical theories and given the tools to create curriculum, management plans and assessments around these theories.

The problem arises when teachers hit the classroom and are required to throw all they know to be true out the window. Because of standardized testing (i.e. the FCAT) and its obsessive focus on a handful of "essentials" to learn and test, the whole of a sound pedagogical approach is disrupted.

Because of the structure and coercion of the one-size-fits-all model of standardized testing, a one-size-fits-all curriculum is demanded of teachers by their superiors. And here's where the divide between teaching programs and actual teaching (if that's what you want to call a one-size-fits-all curriculum) is revealed: Teachers know that one-size-fits-all curriculums are not sound approaches to promote meaningful learning for unique individuals.

So in a sense both Susan Engle and Secretary Duncan are correct: Education programs are not preparing their students to teach in today's classrooms, because today's classrooms are increasingly becoming places where real, meaningful learning is unwelcome. I only hope that school systems realize their errors before we produce a generation of both teachers and students who are penalized because they strive for personal understanding inaccessible to the defunct tools of both standardized tests and standardized curriculums.

Adam Graham, St. Petersburg

For better schools | Nov. 22, editorial

Let the public take control

As a 44-year retired teacher of high school and college students in five states, including 22 years in Pinellas County, I observed reference in the editorial to two "unintended consequences" of the state Legislature's failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide quality education for all students.

The first is personal. I taught world history to high school and college students and, with a Ph.D. in East Asian history, I taught Japanese and Chinese histories to college students. By 2005 I realized that the FCAT obsession had greatly diminished all students' knowledge concerning social studies. Why? Because these subjects were not FCAT-tested. I experienced a zen moment during a Japanese history class at the USF St. Petersburg campus — that the junior and senior history majors had no knowledge of the most fundamental facts of world history — so how could I possibly expect them to understand the nuances of Japanese history within the context of world history? FCAT had arrived at the college level!

The second consequence concerns making lemonade (quality education) out of lemons (FCAT and the state Legislature). If 56 percent of Florida's education costs now come from local property tax dollars, then those "majority" investors — the citizens — have the right to insist on their participation in the formulation of educational process and content for the creation of quality education.

So the next time the state Legislature mandates some arcane change in the curriculum strictly for political reasons, just tell them no — not with my property tax dollars. How sweet is that lemonade!

Dr. Wallace Witham, Belleair Bluffs

Lord, lead us not into fourth and long Nov. 22, Robyn Blumner column

Fostering faith

Robyn Blumner was long on sarcasm and short on proof when she vented her wrath on believing coaches, players and fans in her column.

She wrote about Jewish, Muslim or atheistic players feeling pressured to accept the Christian faith or risk losing their places on athletic squads but offered no concrete proof — names or schools — where this has happened. She concocted a scenario where parents were too afraid of destroying their children's chances to excel to protest exposure to Christian ideals but no proof of any who actually felt so extorted.

Unlike high school, where most pupils are still minors, college students are mostly legal adults. They are considered as having the maturity to be able to walk away from anything they find offensive. There are legal recourses to any attempts to force them into a particular viewpoint under pain of losing the ability to participate in sports. They don't need Blumner's help to do this.

I am a proud Gator but am also proud that so many of the star Seminole, Hurricanes and Bulls players are people of faith who live it on and off the field. If the coaches — whatever their faith — play a part in this, fine. Better these examples than the drunken brawlers we often read about.

Theressa Placke, Tampa

Lord, lead us not into fourth and long Nov. 22, Robyn Blumner column

Who's complaining?

Robyn Blumner's column on Florida coaches leading their players in prayer and serving as Christian role models suggests a reality that doesn't exist. What is reality is that all the players that come to play for coach Bobby Bowden do so voluntarily. They know that he's a Christian, will pray before games, will encourage them to go to church and will share his faith with them. The parents know this too. And they still send their sons to play for him. You will find this scenario being played out thousands of times over many years without any complaints from players and families.

I'll leave Blumner with a quote concerning this issue from the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, a lawyer and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In 2005, Lynn said:

"This is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and I believe university administrations are playing a game of chicken. But eventually, you got to believe that one kid is going to say, 'I've had enough,' and step forward."

I did a quick search and as far as I can tell they still haven't found that one kid. I'm sure it's not from a lack of effort.

Neal Carter, Clermont

Lord, lead us not into fourth and long Nov. 22, Robyn Blumner column

Be more inclusive

As a loyal FSU sports fan, I've always been more than a little disappointed that the football program in particular has been a faith-based program for many years. Young people whose spiritual identities differ from the fundamentalist Christian faith that is preached in the locker room and on the sidelines (for the world to see) must feel a sense of isolation that works against team unity.

Robyn Blumner's column stated clearly the view of many sports fans who'd like to see a more inclusive atmosphere in collegiate sports in the state. Alumni and fans are a diverse group. To alienate people whose views differ from those of the coaching staff seems counterproductive.

I must add that I've had the same view during the 'Noles' better years as well. Thanks to Robyn Blumner for stating with clarity and elegance the heartfelt view of many good fans.

Pete Temko, South Pasadena

Endurance, etiquette get tested outside Best Buy | Nov. 27, story

Greedy shoppers

These Black Friday campers need to stand in line for a wake-up call, not a new computer. I think these greedy people who argue about who is first in line for their $1,600 flat screen should go donate some hours with John Yanchunis and his children and serve some hungry folks — anytime, not just Thanksgiving (A family serves up kindness, Nov. 27).

Having your children live on the sidewalk for a cheap deal on material items doesn't sound like much of a tradition to pass on. My heart's with the Yanchunis family. These Black Friday folks sound way too self-absorbed and materialistic to even bother with. The police were called — and they should have handed out tickets for loitering on the sidewalks and being greedy and selfish. Too bad there aren't laws against that.

Tamara McCorquodale, Gulfport

Endurance, etiquette get tested outside Best Buy | Nov. 27, story

Use a number system

At several locations where I shop, when things get a little hectic, shoppers are given, or are asked to take, a number.

Perhaps Best Buy, and other stores as well, should look in to a numbering system for their Black Friday customers. Numbers will be made available beginning on the Monday preceding Black Friday, and from there, the customer can come and go as he or she pleases. No need to camp out or brave possible cold or inclement weather.

The only requirements, are: One number per person/family, and you must be at the store at the time the doors open on Black Friday. This system may need some fine tuning, but it could eliminate spats, arguments, fights, and other unpleasantness.

Kenneth R. Gilder, St. Petersburg

Today's classrooms are becoming places where meaningful learning is unwelcome. 11/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 27, 2009 5:14pm]
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